While not as robust as 2018 and 2019, this year turned out to be pretty great for travel experiences. Considering the first six months started out with me being confined to Germany, I’m surprised how much I was able to travel. If you told me in January I’d be able to go to Hawaii, Seychelles, and Fiji this year, I would have laughed in your face.
However, it was in no way an easy task. I’ve spent more time on hold this year than all years of my life, combined. Also, I’ve had more flights cancelled this year than all my life combined. Not to mention the added cost of PCR tests and stress of ever changing travel regulations, sometimes mid-trip. Regardless, it was all worth it to not have to sit on the couch for another 18 months. I’m super grateful to be traveling again, even with all the headaches.
2021 Travel Stats
Miles Flown: 53,426
Number of Hotels: 21
Nights Stayed: 50
Countries Visited: 7
New Countries Visited: 4
1) Night Diving with Manta Rays – Kona, Hawaii
One of the best travel experiences I’ve even done was the Manta night dive along the Kona coast of the Big Island in Hawaii. The dive was only about 10 meters deep with a huge stationary light that attracted tons of plankton. Once the plankton arrived, about eight Manta Rays showed up to eat them all up. For most of the 45 minute dive gigantic Manta Rays soared over my head multiple times, some of them 3 to 4 meters wide. Truly amazing to see how elegant and precise these Mantas glided through the water, missing my head by mere milimeteres.
2) Diving with Giant Sea Turtles – Maui, Hawaii
Nothing gets me more excited than seeing turtles while diving. Usually, when I’m lucky, I’ll see one or two on a dive. At Mala Wharf on the coast of Maui, I saw around 20 gigantic sea turtles on one dive. Some of them were more massive than me!
3) Drift Diving Rainbow Reef – Taveuni, Fiji
The last five years saw much coral bleaching in the world, especially in the Indian Ocean. However, the Rainbow Reef near Taveuni Island in Fiji had the healthiest and most colorful coral I’ve ever seen. Also remarkable about this place is the abundance of soft coral which is not common. That’s why it is called the soft coral capital of the world.
4) Fissure Number 8 – Big Island, Hawaii
I’m a big fan of geology and very interested in witnessing the evolution of the earth surface. Even a few years after the huge eruption, the surface was still hot and steaming with sulfuric gases. It’s still hard to believe that this crater caused a river of lava eight miles long while creating 875 new acres of new land along the coast of the big island.
5) Day Trip to Albania
I’m still on a mission to visit every country in Europe, so I was fortunate to visit Montenegro and Albania this year. Albania surprisingly had very good food along with many historical sites.
6) Diving the Great Astrolabe Reef – Kadavu, Fiji
The Great Astrolabe Reef is one of the world largest barrier reefs. To dive this area, I had to take a 40 minute propeller plane flight from Nadi and a 45 minute boat ride to a “resort” that had no internet or power. While it took some getting used to being off grid for five days, it was well worth seeing the tremendous amount of healthy and vibrant hard coral with no end in sight.
7) Diving in the Seychelles – Praslin, Seychelles
Seychelles is known for its beautiful beaches covered in enormous granite boulders. Under the surface there are even more gigantic granite boulders, covered in coral and schools of fish. Furthermore, there was an aboundance of turtles, moral eels, sharks, sting rays, and eagle rays.
8) Fake Oktoberfest – Munich, Germany
For the second year in a row, Oktoberfest was cancelled in Germany. Crazy to think the world’s largest festival were once again cancelled. Luckily enough, the beer halls and beer gardens was still open in Munich, so I headed down there to get some sort of Oktoberfest experience. Hopefully next year things will be open again.
9) Diving in Cyprus – St George, Cyprus
After 18 months of no travel, my first trip was to Cyprus. After not diving for so long, it was good to practice my diving skills before heading to more epic locations. Germany had a long winter this year so it was great to get some sun and beach after some serious lack of vitamin D.
10) Motorized Scooter Diving – Maui, Hawaii
When the dive shop I was coordinating with via email suggested doing dives with a motorized scooter, I honestly had no idea what he was talking about. Surprisingly, this was insanely fun and these things really move fast under the water. I had to bite down hard on my regulator so it would not fly out of my mouth. I felt like iron man flying around down there.
1) Finnair Business Class A350
Finnair was my best flight this year due to having the best food and service along with the plane being a relatively new A350. Also, the cabin was not too hot like most European airlines, so that was appreciated. I was able to book this flight from HEL to HGK using 85,000 American Airlines miles on award booking bound for Fiji.
2) Lufthansa Business Class A350
This was my first Lufthansa flight on an A350 and I was surprised the airline did not update their business class cabin for this plane like other airlines flying the A350. Aside from the bigger screens, the interior decor pretty much was cut and paste from their other airplanes. Nevertheless, it was still a comfortable ride with good food. I was able to book the flight from Toronto to Frankfurt using 70,000 Air Canada Miles that I transferred from my Chase Ultimate Rewards point balance.
3) Hawaiian Airlines Business Class A330
Finally after a few years of wanting to try out the new Hawaiian Airlines business class interior, I was able to try it out from Honolulu to New York. As always with Hawaiian, the service was great with delicious food. I was able to book this flight by upgrading an existing economy class ticket using 50,000 Hawaiian airlines miles. Only downside was I was on hold for two hours to get this upgraded.
4) Ethiopian Airlines Business Class A350
Surprisingly, the level of service has been steadily improving since I first flew with Ethiopian back in 2017. While the food options have been reduced onboard, the transfer experience has been made much better by the new terminal and lounges at ADD. I was able to book this flight from FRA-ADD-SEZ in business class using 55,000 Singapore Airlines Miles. Great deal for 17 hours of flying.
5) Swiss Airways Business Class 777-300
After my KLM flight to JFK was cancelled last minute, I was able to book a business class flight on Swiss Airways using 63,000 LifeMiles. I was able to transfer Citi thank you points to LifeMiles for this flight.
6) Lufthansa Business Class 747-400
This was my first and possibly my last experience on the upper deck of the 747-400 since the long term fate of these planes are in question. I was able to book this business class flight for 60,000 Air Canada miles from FRA to JFK.
7) Helicopter Ride from Hilton Silhouette Island to SEZ
Hilton Seychelles Labriz is on a secluded island that normally takes a cab ride and then a boat ride to get to the resort. I had a tight schedule for my connecting flight home so I decided to cut the travel time to the airport by about 90 minutes by taking the helicopter from the resort straight to the airport. Luckily it was a clear day and was able to enjoy the gorgeous scenery on the way to the airport. Sadly, I was not able to use miles for this.
8) Fiji Airways Business Class A330
Even though this was an angled lie-flat seat, I surprisingly was able to sleep for most of the ten hour flight from Hong Kong to Fiji aboard this Fiji Airways business class cabin. Most likely due to the cabin A/C being blasted, which always makes it easier for me to sleep. This flight was part of my 85,000 American Airlines booking from HEL-HKG-NAN.
9) Lufthansa Business Class A330
Earlier in the year Lufthansa was flying the A330 to JFK before switching to the 747-400 later in the year. The flight was the standard Lufthansa business class experience that I was able to book using 63,000 LifeMiles. Since LifeMiles have a lot of transfer partners (Capitol One, AMEX, Citi) I often book flights using these miles since Lufthansa is a Star Alliance Partner with consistent last minute award availability.
10) Delta First Class 757-300
After flying from FRA-LAX on Lufthansa business class, I made a separate booking on Delta from LAX to HNL for cash since the rates were low. I mostly fly around Europe, so the use of “First Class” for a service that included NO lounge access or seats with a lot of recline is a total joke. I was provided 3 dollars worth of junk food but hey, at least the A/C was on full blast like an ice box. Apparently, on the SEA-HNL route, Delta has nicer planes with lie-flat seats.
11) Lufthansa Economy Class A321NEO
After 18 months of no flying, my first flight was to Cyprus on a fairly new A321NEO. I’ll never forget how beautiful this plane looked after not flying for so long. It is a great plane and would prefer this over the 737 anytime.
1) Taveuni Dive Resort – Fiji
I don’t often mention hotels that can’t be booked using points, but this place was so awesome it had to be mentioned. Set on the hillside of the lush island of Taveuni, it was the most professionally run dive operation and resort I’ve experienced. Not to mention some of the best diving in the world only a short boat ride away. If you are a serious diver, put this at the top of your bucket list. Also, I was able to get the forth night free here using the Citi Prestige credit card.
2) Coco de Mer Hotel – Praslin, Seychelles
Another resort that is not bookable using points but still worth mentioning was the Coco de Mer Hotel on Praslin Island. Amazing food and location that I was able to get the 4th night free using my Citi prestige card which also included getting full board meals free the 4th night.
3) Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort and Spa – Seychelles
Since Hilton extended the expiration date on its Free Night Certificates due to COVID, I was able to book five nights here for free using the certs provided from the Hilton Aspire Credit card. The individual huts were huge and private along one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Also, the dive shop here was very professional. Downside was these certs were not bookable online and I had to wait on hold for two hours to book this stay. Annoying but worth the time.
4) Lahaina Shores Beach Resort – Maui, Hawaii
This hotel is the best value for points of any hotel program out there. At 15,000 Hyatt points per night, it is also possible to use your annual free night certificate that you receive with your Hyatt credit card here. Hope this hotel stays at this point rate for a little while longer; I would love to return here.
5) Volcano Places Laukapu Forest Cottage – Big Island, Hawaii
I booked this cool cottage in the rainforest near Volcanoes National Park. It was hand built and designed by the owner and fully within the rainforest. If you have the Capital One Venture X card, you can use your $200 vacation rental credit here via airbnb.com
6) Hilton Waikoloa Village – Big Island, Hawaii
This mega resort was too big and crowded for my liking and I found it annoying to lug my dive equipment every morning on the train to the parking lot. However, with Hawaii being so expensive it was worth spending 240,000 Hilton Points to stay here for 5 nights free. The $37.00 parking free a day was ridiculous though. Talk about nickel and dime.
7) Hilton Podgorica – Montenegro
Hilton has some awesome properties in Eastern Europe and Montenegro is no exception. The nightly rate was under $100 dollars and I was upgraded to a huge suite for being a Hilton Diamond Member.
8) Crowne Plaza Limassol – Cyprus
While not the prettiest beach, this hotel is centrally located in Cyprus great for exploring all of the island. I was able to stay here for five nights free with a combination of annual free night certificates and IHG points.
This resort was beautiful but I was not a fan of it having no real beach. On the plus side, this was of the rare occasions I was able to use my Marriott free night certificate at something other than a lame airport hotel.
10) Hilton Doubletree Fiji
The Double Tree in Fiji is almost a great hotel, but with Fiji being closed for nearly two years, the property maintenance and training has much to be improved. I booked a cash rate since it was reasonable and fortunately I was upgraded to the highest category room, a Bure right on the beach.